Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts did not quit in the first game of Super Wild-Card Weekend, but they came up just short when it mattered most. Despite 14 fourth-quarter points and a last-minute drive by a resilient Rivers, it was the Buffalo Bills who got the job done, preserving a narrow lead even in the face of a polarizing officiating decision not to overturn a non-fumble call on a relatively clear Indy turnover. With Josh Allen displaying some of his MVP-caliber magic and Stefon Diggs doing the same, the Bills sealed a 27-24 win to advance to the Divisional Round.
The Buffalo victory ensures the AFC's No. 2 seed will live to fight another week, not to mention the Bills' first playoff win since 1995. The Colts, meanwhile, will enter an offseason with some big question marks -- particularly at QB -- after their second straight season without a playoff victory.
Here are some immediate takeaways from Saturday's tight AFC contest:
Why the Bills won
Their weapons showed out with splash plays. Seriously, it's as simple as that. We all knew coming into the game that Buffalo boasted some of the game's best offensive firepower this side of Kansas City, and while the Bills failed to establish much of a ground game and too often faced third-and-longs, they once again got big-time performances from their core starters. Josh Allen nearly gave Indy a crucial takeaway with a late fumble but was otherwise dynamic, Stefon Diggs somehow made 128 yards and a TD feel like a mild day, and Gabriel Davis was also a repeat deep threat. The "D" did fine, too, capitalizing on Indy's failed red-zone play-calling and thwarting a late comeback attempt, but this victory, like many others, was mostly due to the game-changing electricity of this team's QB.
Why the Colts lost
It wasn't for lack of effort. Philip Rivers, as per usual in 2020, never looked incredibly comfortable airing the ball out, but it didn't matter, because he made a habit of picking at Buffalo's secondary with lots of short but effective tight-end shots. Still, if that's your game plan, you have to be nearly perfect on key downs and scoring chances, especially against a team like Buffalo, and they weren't. The red-zone play-calling on an early series left a lot to be desired, though Rivers could've given an open Michael Pittman an easier opportunity for six, too. It was a solid outing for Indy's "O," to be sure, even with Jonathan Taylor mostly held in check, but those late-drive mistakes were killer. Defensively, the Colts flashed but got beat deep one too many times.
With 3:32 left in the third quarter, the Colts turned to Rodrigo Blankenship to cut their deficit from seven to four points, trailing 17-10. As if settling for three weren't bad enough, Blankenship proceeded to miss the 33-yard kick, and Buffalo then went 77 yards and ate up more than four minutes of clock to extend their lead to 14. Indy fought back in the fourth, threatening to tie or take the lead in the final minute of action, but that third-quarter hole is the reason they had to claw back in the first place.
Play of the game
No question about it: Allen's first TD, a pass to Dawson Knox to put Buffalo up 7-3, was his best improvised play in a while. What began as a designed QB run turned into an under-duress scoring toss that set the tone for the Bills' offense early.
The Bills will head to the Divisional Round, where they'll take on the highest remaining seed from the wild-card matchups -- either the Steelers, Titans or Ravens. The Colts, meanwhile, will begin their 2021 offseason with quite a few questions to answer -- none more important than whether or not Philip Rivers will return as their starting QB.